This morning I had a conversation with a pastor friend. His church has started a number of support groups for various needs, but they just can’t get people to come. The church is not small, but every support group they offer has one, two or three attendees. Today he asked, “How do we just get people there?”
Giving Versus Receiving Help
In their church, people are happy to help, but they don’t want to be the ones who need help. I understand. Me too. I didn’t want to go to therapy or be in a support group. I didn’t want any help; I wanted to help other people.
Then it hit me. In the gospels, there are stories about disciples who get to heal the broken and save the lost and have perfect reputations, but those stories also include people who are broken, need healing and need saving. If the stories were told today, I would not be Barnabus, John, or Paul. Instead, the gospels would find me in a community outside of town. I would be the leper that needed to be healed and saved.
Some of us have a really hard time with this idea. We want to be the victor, to overcome. We want to contribute to the rest of society by being perfect, autonomous, independent and strong. We don’t want to need others.
Jesus and Vulnerability
Part of addressing mental health in the church is to ask, “Do people feel okay about having mental health needs? Can people handle being the helped instead of being the helper? Can people be okay with being a modern-day leper?” Can I be okay with being a leper?
If I could change anything in the Church, I would change the idea that every person needs to be strong all the time so we can help the outside world. I would invite people to be vulnerable, knowing that vulnerability makes them more like Jesus.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, anticipating His impending death, I think many of us picture Him abandoned; we see Him trying to be strong alone. But He didn’t try to face death alone, as described in Matthew 26:36-38:
In the midst of His most severe trial, God incarnate asked His friends to watch over Him, because He knew He could not do what He had to do alone. Though the disciples fell asleep and failed to keep watching and praying, Jesus knew He needed others. He asked for help.
The lens through which we Jesus and see ourselves is flawed and broken. We often see our desire to overcome and conquer obstacles as something we can accomplish by ourselves, without a need to be in community. But God’s ideal is to be vulnerable, to allow others to share burdens. The gospels tell the story of a God who wanted others around Him when He was at His worst. They tell the story of an all-powerful God who lived in a world that built life and vulnerability together, instead of trying to do life alone.
Jesus came to restore lepers with healing and with renewed connection to others. It is okay to be the leper.
Brandon Appelhans is the Executive Director of My Quiet Cave, a nonprofit located in Denver Colorado, creating spaces of faith and mental health by helping educate faith leaders and lead faith based groups for people with mental illness and their families. For more information visit myquietcave.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.